The college admission process left many of you feeling like an unlucky contestant on The Bachelor--courted by what seemed like the perfect match, only to be sent home alone, bawling in the back seat of a limo.
Like those jilted contestants, you might be asking yourself, “What happened?” or worse, “What did I do wrong?” Even though tuition deposits were due May 1, you are still pining over your lost love. Your parents proudly wear college sweatshirts and slap stickers on the family car, but it just makes you cringe. So how can you move on and get excited about college again? As a former rejected student myself, here is my advice.
First, see the process for what it is. The sausage grinder we call college admission is not a meritocracy. In fact, as with sausage, you might not want to see what goes into an acceptance or rejection decision. Colleges have agendas they must serve before an application is even opened: spots reserved for athletes, wealthy donors, legacies, and underserved geographic/racial/ethnic groups. The factors determining whether you receive a thick or thin envelope are often beyond your control and unrelated to your qualifications. To adapt a favorite line of The Bachelor, “It’s them, not you.”
Second, it doesn’t matter as much as you might think. After graduating from “elite” undergraduate and law schools, and spending years in corporate America, I’ve learned that the name on a diploma is not a strong indicator of future success. Recent studies by The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, and others undermine the presumed correlation between school status and job placement, salary level, and career advancement. You will be entering a workforce in which the answer to the question “What can you do?” carries more weight than “Where did you go?” Graduating from an “elite” college doesn’t guarantee you can do anything. College major, grades, internships, work ethic, and passion: those are the factors most relevant to career success. The good news is that unlike the outcome of the college admission process, these are in your control.
Third, welcome to the real world. High school is a very small world, and the college admission process only further narrows your perspective. What happens next is more important than anything that happened in high school. Don’t waste time. There is a lot of important work to be done in college and big questions that need answers, such as: What are your life goals? How will college help you accomplish them? What skills do you need? We live in a complex world; college is the perfect time for you to make sense of and find your place in it. This can be done anywhere, as long as you arrive on campus with an open, inquiring mind.
Fourth, believe in yourself. Handing over your self-esteem to anonymous admission officers is a cost too high for any college. We all face rejection at some point. College rejection presents the opportunity to learn valuable coping skills early on, and define success on your own terms. Doing so will serve you better than any degree.
Now back to The Bachelor. You can’t turn the limo around, so stop looking back. Give yourself a fresh start. If you take my advice, there’s a good chance your dream school will someday realize you were the one who got away.